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There Is a Massive Blind Spot in Our Knowledge

Our scientific knowledge of the world has a massive blind spot.

Key points

  • A recent book by two physicists and a philosopher highlights why science has a blind spot.
  • The blind spot is how to fit human experience together with science.
  • Four problems that stem from the blind spot are identified, which help explain why science is incomplete.
  • New directions toward a unified theory of knowledge explicitly bridge science with subjective knowing.
Source: Courtesy of Gregg Henriques
Source: Courtesy of Gregg Henriques

There is a massive blind spot in our understanding of the world. This is evident in the current state of our knowledge systems, which can be described as being in a state of chaotic, fragmented pluralism. The reason for this is that there is no shared, general system of understanding that allows us to grip the world and our place in it effectively. Those who know the history of religion, philosophy, and science in the West (i.e., Western Europe that spawned the scientific Enlightenment) will be well-acquainted with this fact.

This has not always been the case. Indeed, for many hundreds of years the worldview in the West was coherent and essentially singular (which is not to say accurate). The Roman Empire adopted Christianity in 380 AD, and it was the primary belief system in Europe for over a thousand years. Indeed, the emergence of the “Western World” is intimately connected with the idea of "Christendom."

However, the dominant grip that Christianity had on shaping the worldview of the West radically changed in the wake of the Renaissance and scientific Enlightenment. The Age of Reason, grounded in natural science and powered by capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, greatly weakened Christianity’s dominance, such that by the time of Nietzsche’s prescient analyses (circa 1880s), it was starting to become apparent that God would soon be dead.

Although natural science achieved much success in unifying knowledge in physics, chemistry, and biology, it largely failed to bring coherence to psychology and the social sciences and never achieved effective alignment with the humanities. Thus, naturalism never became a worldview. Instead, with the emergence of postmodern sensibility in the social sciences and humanities in the middle of the 20th Century, the branches of knowledge fractured into a chaotic, fragmented pluralism.

There are many reasons why this fragmentation emerged, but one of the most important is that science has a massive blind spot within it. The recently released book, The Blind Spot: Why Science Cannot Ignore Human Experience, offers a powerful critique of the idea that science can discover a “God’s Eye” view of the world by revealing the pristine, true equations that determine the way energy and matter behave irrespective of human knowing. What we actually have is a science that is blind to human experience and the place of human knowledge in the universe. As such, we need a fundamental shift in our philosophy of science to see the world more completely with us as a part of it.

Crucial to understanding this analysis is the fact that science achieves much of its success by factoring out the individual subject. As I detail in my book, A New Synthesis for Solving the Problem of Psychology: Addressing the Enlightenment Gap, knowledge in natural science is achieved in part by dividing the world into (1) objective qualities that can be observed and systematically quantified and then mathematically modeled; and (2) subjective qualities that are experienced by an individual. This move was tremendously powerful in orienting scientists to generate data that could be measured and analyzed, experiments that could be replicated, and mathematical analyses that allowed us to map the world with unprecedented precision.

However, it also gave rise to a knowledge system that factored out human experience. In essence, the method of science gave rise to the language of science that essentially denies the language of the subject. And the two were never put back together. The result is what I have called the Enlightenment Gap. The gap refers to the fact that we never were able to achieve a coherent picture of the relationship between matter and mind (i.e., the ontological aspect of the problem) or the right relation between scientific knowing and subjective and social knowing (i.e., the epistemological aspect of the problem).

In The Blind Spot, Frank, Gleiser, and Thompson explain why and how a wrongheaded conception of science came about and the downstream problems that have emerged in its wake. Specifically, they delineate four pathologies associated with the blind spot as follows: 1. surreptitious substitution; 2. the fallacy of misplaced concreteness; 3. reification of structural invariants; and 4. the amnesia of experience. The first pathology elevates mathematical constructs to the status of fundamental reality. The second is the error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. The third error is taking the findings from the scientific lab and mistaking them for the real world (i.e., the objective fabric of reality). Finally, amnesia of experience happens when we forget that our concepts emerge out of (shared) experience, and the result is the blind spot itself.

After explaining the blind spot, the book turns to the major topics of science, including the cosmos, time, matter, life, mind, and the planet. It highlights how the blind spot has muddied our understanding across many domains. The result is a clear picture of why the blind spot emerged and why the failure to integrate human experience into natural science renders it an incomplete or partial system of knowledge.

In laying out this picture, the book helps us understand why the West is experiencing a meaning crisis and why our knowledge systems are chaotic and fragmented. Natural science broke Christianity's grip on the West's worldview, but it failed to replace it with a holistic conception of the world and our place in it. The Blind Spot does a great job of diagnosing the problem. However, it does not offer much in the way of solution. As they state near the end of the book:

What does leaving the Blind Spot behind look like? Although we’ve pointed to many scientific ideas that go beyond the Blind Spot, we have not tried to formulate a comprehensive scientific or philosophical perspective to replace it.

Thankfully, work has accumulated in this area. UTOK, the Unified Theory of Knowledge, is explicitly offered as a comprehensive scientific, philosophical perspective that effectively marries the language of science with the language of the subject. In so doing, it shines a way to transform the blind spot into the seen spot1.


1. UTOK, the Unified Theory of Knowledge, is a new philosophical system that was laid out in A New Synthesis for Solving the Problem of Psychology. It just held its second annual conference, which brought together over 60 scholars and almost 400 people for an online conference. For the overview, see: Henriques, G. (2024). UTOK: The Unified Theory of Knowledge. Keynote address given at the 2nd annual UTOK Consilience Conference.

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